Being a mother for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Most women underestimate what’s involved in being a mother. Many new mums look to others thinking ‘she seems to be coping, why can’t I?’
Outward appearances often mask the reality of what’s going on in the minds and hearts of those on the steep learning curve of motherhood.
Sleep deprivation and exhaustion anyone?
In my office I hear ‘’I didn’t know it would be like this’’, ‘’my baby’s not sleeping, I feel like such a failure’’, ‘where have I gone?”, ‘I hate to admit it but at times I resent my baby’.
These are all said by women who adore their babies but also, who are suffering from sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion. In a frustrated and worn out state, new mums compare themselves to others, often to their own detriment.
4 adults to raise 1 child
I tell all my clients who are parents that it takes four adults to raise one child comfortably. That is, new parents get to sleep, have time to themselves or put simply, are able to live life not being completely worn out from parenthood. The relief they feel after hearing it can be palpable.
One new mum burst out crying when I told her. She had been experiencing feelings of inadequacy and was distraught believing that somehow, she was ‘failing’ at motherhood. Her mood was jumping from anxiety to depression as she wrestled with what and how things ‘should’ be rather than what was actually going on.
After we worked together on some strategies to deal with her mood, we spent time detecting the ‘shoulds’ that kept harassing her. And guess what? She was doing a great job raising her baby, nowhere near failure. It was her expectations that needed amending.
A killer called Comparison
We often compare ourselves to others which invariably does more harm than good. We never really get the full picture of life from appearances alone. We usually put on our masks of happiness, not revealing the depth of the difficulty we’re feeling and what we’re going through. We want to show ourselves at our best, our most successful, not when we’re vulnerable or when we need help.
One of my brave clients decided one day to share the challenges and frustrations she was having with her Facebook new mothers group. To her amazement, other mothers shared their stories, thanking her for opening up an authentic discussion. It normalized their experiences and importantly, helped them realise they were not the only ones struggling. In fact, many of them were, especially those who on their own trying to do everything for themselves.
Top 5 tips for new mums
Here are some of the regular things I find myself telling new mums:
- Your baby, toddler, child, or teenager will challenge you for the rest of their and your life! Each stage will have its own unique road bumps. It’s important to remember this is a moment in time, not the whole of time. This stage will pass, you will sleep again.
- Your baby doesn’t need perfection, it needs attention. Adaptability, flexibility, availability and emotional attunement to all their needs are the primary elements your baby needs from you. The ability to be responsive and forming a bond with your baby lays down a blueprint of how they will ‘do’ relationships in the future.
- If you need help, ask for it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Easier said than done, right? If the first person you ask says ‘no’, keep going. There will be someone willing to help.
- The housework will always be there. The house doesn’t need to be ‘perfect’, it needs to be clean and functional. If it’s getting too overwhelming or feels out of control, get a cleaner. If that’s not in your budget, ask for assistance from family or friends to lighten the load. You’ll feel less pressured and be able to enjoy the moments unique to this moment in time.
- Plan time to spend with your partner. Put it in your diary and arrange a babysitter. Relationships change dramatically after having children. You need time together to discuss and negotiate expectations, be attuned to one another and keep your connectedness. You’ll be a better parent for it.
These are some of the few things I’ve seen in my practice coming from a counselling perspective. Of course, this is only one part of motherhood. I’m especially keen to know about your experiences. What is the one thing you wish someone told you about being a first-time mother? I look forward to hearing your responses.